King is the only Prince George’s middle school that met federal benchmarks this year under the No Child Left Behind law, but Saathoff is concerned that Henry isn’t ready for the middle school environment.
“He might get exposed to things that I think he’s not ready for,’’ said Saathoff, who would prefer he stay at Calverton, even though it is 27 percent over capacity. “So we’re deciding what to do. The middle schools here have a lot of trouble, so we’re thinking of just sending him to a private school. We didn’t want to make this decision yet.”
This month, parents throughout Prince George’s have been echoing Saathoff’s fears. School officials toured the county to discuss adding sixth grade to more of the county’s middle schools.
Last school year, 11 of Prince George’s 24 middle schools had only seventh and eighth grades. This school year, that number was reduced to nine. Over the next few years, it is likely that the number will continue to decrease.
Perks beyond saving space
School officials said that in addition to helping ease crowding, there are academic advantages to moving sixth grade to middle school.
“This is a very important age, and as students get older you want them to have more options,” said A. Duane Arbogast, the county’s chief academic officer. “The change will make programming easier. In middle school, they’ll have more options for foreign languages, electives. These [choices] are valuable.”
The school configuration changes are among many taking place in the state’s second-largest school system. School officials are considering redrawing attendance zones and transportation routes. State lawmakers are redrawing the district boundaries for school board seats to reflect the county’s growing Hispanic population.
And Prince George’s isn’t the only school system studying grade placement. Researchers, school officials and parents around the country are trying to determine the best way to boost performance among middle-schoolers, who as a group tend to score lower on standardized tests and have more disciplinary problems than those in elementary school.
In Montgomery County, the overwhelming majority of middle schools are grades 6 through 8, the most prevalent path in the nation. Most Fairfax County middle schools have grades 7 and 8. In the District, many parents have expressed concern about the city’s middle schools, arguing that the quality of education varies widely from school to school. The District has experimented with K-8 schools, which have proved popular even though they haven’t appeared to improve academic achievement.